To say these past couple of weeks have been “busy” is a gross understatement of the whirlwind the month of January has been for me. But it’s been the good kind of busy. The busy that makes you feel like you’ve finally hit your stride in a long race, where you can no longer feel your legs but you know you’re sprinting as fast as you can. Yes, that sums up my first month of 2012 quite well—a marathon that I’ve also been sprinting. This blur of business meetings, new clients and planning events has made it unmistakably apparent that time is among our most valuable assets.
As a child, my mother instilled in me this same concept. She would tell me to “be a good steward of your time.” Back then, I found this terribly confusing because my name was Stephanie, not “Stewart” but now, not only do I understand the phrase, I understand its importance. We need to protect our time like we would any other item of great value because ultimately how we invest our time directly affects the lives we lead.
My time is of particularly high value to me because it’s my product, it’s what I sell. When I take on a new client and create a communications strategy for them, I am selling my time and my expertise (which also took more time to achieve). Unlike a bakery that sells cakes, I can’t go out and buy more time when the demand for my services exceeds my product supply. It is with this realization of my business model that I’ve recently become more protective of my time. Just as a business wouldn’t give away their tangible products for free, I can’t put my time into projects and activities that don’t earn something positive in return.
So how do I protect my time? It comes from learning to do one of the hardest things in the world—saying no. If we allow it to happen, our time can easily be taken away from us by unproductive activities and other people who are not respectful of our time’s value. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for me to fill my week with meetings and commitments that didn’t result in future business for my firm or even a meaningful relationship—only a loss of time for which I can never make up. So now before I commit my time to anything, I ask myself “Will this bring me joy, fulfillment or money?” If I can’t answer yes to at least one of these, I don’t do it (It’s important to ask yourself all three categories, because time on the earth isn’t just for earning money, it’s for doing what brings you joy and what fulfills your emotional and physical needs. This encompasses hobbies, charity, time with loved ones and exercise).
Remaining a good steward of our time takes a conscious effort, but it’s necessary for productivity and ultimately for success. I’ll leave you with this final quote to consider from a man whose time and expertise was so valuable to us all. Steve Jobs once described the battle for time as it relates to success in this way, ““It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”